Life cycle assessment of renewable diesel from lignocellulosic biomass

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  • Purpose Governments around the world encourage the use of biofuels through fuel standard policies that require the addition of renewable diesel in diesel fuel from fossil fuels. Environmental impact studies of the conversion of biomass to renewable diesel have been conducted, and life cycle assessments (LCA) of the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel (HDRD) are limited, especially for countries with cold climates like Canada. Methods In this study, an LCA was conducted on converting lignocellulosic biomass to HDRD by estimating the well-to-wheel greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fossil fuel energy input of the production of biomass and its conversion to HDRD. The approach to conduct this LCA includes defining the goal and scope, compiling a life cycle inventory, conducting a life cycle impact assessment, and executing a life cycle interpretation. All GHG emissions and fossil fuel energy inputs were based on a fast pyrolysis plant capacity of 2000 dry tonnes biomass/day. A functional unit of 1 MJ of HDRD produced was adopted as a common unit for data inputs of the life cycle inventory. To interpret the results, a sensitivity analysis was performed to measure the impact of variables involved, and an uncertainty analysis was performed to assess the confidence of the results. Results and discussion The GHG emissions of three feedstocks studied – whole tree (i.e., chips from cutting the whole tree), forest residues (i.e., chips from branches and tops generated from logging operations), and agricultural residues (i.e., straw from wheat and barley) – range from 35.4-42.3 gCO2,eq/MJ of HDRD (i.e., lowest for agricultural residue- and highest for forest residue-based HDRD); this is 53.4-61.1% lower than fossil-based diesel. The net energy ratios range from 1.55-1.90 MJ/MJ (i.e., lowest for forest residue- and highest for agricultural residue-based HDRD) for HDRD production. The difference in results among feedstocks is due to differing energy requirements to harvest and pre-treat biomass. The energy-intensive hydroprocessing stage is responsible for most of the GHG emissions produced for the entire conversion pathway. Conclusions Comparing feedstocks showed the significance of the efficiency in the equipment used and the physical properties of biomass in the production of HDRD. The overall results show the importance of efficiency at the hydroprocessing stage. These findings indicate significant GHG mitigation benefits for the oil refining industry using available lignocellulosic biomass to produce HDRD for transportation fuel.

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    Article (Draft / Submitted)
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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
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    • Wong, Alain, Zhang, Hao, & Kumar, Amit (2016). Life cycle assessment of renewable diesel from lignocellulosic biomass. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 21(10), 1404-1424.
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